Collection of accurate and reliable data is a prerequisite for informed risk assessment and risk management. Both scientists carrying out risk assessments and decision-makers in Europe need up-to-date and comparable information across Member States on hazards found in the food chain and on food consumption.
When a new hazard is found in the food chain – for instance the recent cases of melamine found in various foods or dioxin contamination of pork – scientists must quickly assess who is exposed, through which foods and at what levels. This in order to provide a rapid and reliable risk assessment and to help risk managers take appropriate action to protect consumers.
By collecting data at the EU-level we can find out for example how often foods are contaminated with bacteria or chemicals and at what levels. This information, combined with reliable information on food consumption in the Member States, makes it possible for risk assessors to assess consumer exposure to a certain hazard both at the EU- and country-level. The assessments also allow scientists to make recommendations for the prevention, reduction, and monitoring of these hazards in the food chain.
Access to harmonised data supports risk managers in making informed decisions to protect and promote consumer health; for instance in assessing how dietary intakes of salt compare with targets set for healthy diets. Such data can also be utilised in evaluating the effectiveness of EU actions and programmes aimed at reducing the occurrence of biological and chemical risks in food and in animal populations.
Cooperation in data collection across Europe is key in order to harmonise approaches and thereby facilitate information sharing between countries. EU-wide data can also reflect important differences between Member States.
The 2006 EFSA strategy on cooperation and networking between EFSA and EU Member States identifies exchanging scientific information as a key element for the establishment of a common approach to risk assessment. The 2008 review of this strategy emphasises the need for prioritising data collection activities on food consumption.
In EFSA, ongoing data collection activities to assess and monitor trends over time are carried out by the Evidence Management Unit. The Evidence Management Unit deals with the collection of data on food consumption and occurrence of chemical contaminants in food and feed for chemical exposure assessments at European level. The Unit also collects data on occurrence of zoonoses, zoonotic agents in food, feed and animals as well food-borne outbreaks in the EU. In addition it gathers data on antimicrobial resistance in certain zoonotic agents and occurrence of microbiological contaminants.
To support the work of its Scientific Committee and Panels EFSA also carries out data collection on specific issues. These are utilised to:
- prepare risk assessments in response to Commission mandates and work undertaken on EFSA’s own initiative;
- support the re-evaluation of authorised substances, such as food additives and flavourings;
- support the development of guidance for risk assessment.
The calls for data are published on the EFSA website.
Report on EFSA’s data collection activities
A 2009 report on EFSA’s recurring data collection activities describes the Authority’s work in this field. The report covers data collection on:
- food consumption
- zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance and food-borne outbreaks
EFSA’s Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database is a source of information on food consumption in the European Union, containing detailed data for a number of EU countries.
However, EU Member States use different methods to collect food consumption data, which makes it difficult to carry out EU-wide analyses or country-to-country comparisons.
In close cooperation with the EU Member States, through the EU Menu project, EFSA is therefore supporting harmonised food consumption data collection. This should allow more efficient and accurate exposure assessments to be carried out.
Coordinated by EFSA, plans are being developed to take forward the EU Menu project, in co-operation with Member States, with the long term objective of collecting detailed and harmonised food consumption data from individuals of all ages across the EU.
Zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance and food-borne outbreaks
EFSA analyses data on zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and food-borne outbreaks across the EU. Data are submitted annually by the Member States. Zoonoses are infections and diseases that are transmissible between animals and humans. EFSA publishes, in collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), annual Community Summary Reports based on this data. ECDC provides for and analyses data on the zoonoses cases in humans. The latest report covers 18 zoonotic infections.
Moereover, EFSA analyses the EU-wide baseline surveys on zoonotic agents, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, in animal and food-populations and on antimicrobial resistance. These surveys are fully harmonised and therefore provide comparable values for all Member States. Survey results are used to set EU reduction targets or to consider needs for specific actions at EU-level.
EFSA has also published several reports providing guidance for Member States on the monitoring and reporting of zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance and food-borne outbreaks. EFSA has also actively developed methods to analyse these data.
EFSA regularly publishes calls for data on scientific subjects specific to its remit. Member States and other interested parties are asked to submit relevant information and data or assist EFSA in performing its tasks and in accomplishing its mission. As an example, EFSA has published calls on acrylamide and furan, both of which are contaminants with toxic properties that may be formed in foods during food manufacturing or home cooking under particular conditions. Data collection has also supported risk assessments on several other substances, for example aflatoxins, heavy metals, and melamine.
EFSA supports the Commission in the production of an annual report on veterinary medicinal residues in food from animals based on aggregated data submitted by Member States to the Commission. Based on a mandate from the Commission, EFSA is also in the process of setting up a sample based European data collection on veterinary drug residues.
Data collection also supports risk managers in setting legislative limits and monitoring in the food chain levels of persistent organic pollutants, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls.
Member States control the compliance with maximum residue levels of pesticides in food and feed and submit the results to the Commission and EFSA. EFSA then prepares an annual report that provides an overview of pesticide residues in food observed throughout the EU and assesses the exposure of consumers through their diets. The outcomes serve as a basis for decision makers to possibly consider new or revised management measures.
EFSA’s Founding Regulation 178/2002, states that the Authority should collect and analyse data in its fields of expertise. EFSA carries out two different types of data collection activities:
- harmonised collection of EU-wide data required by EU regulations on an ongoing basis in order to assess and monitor trends over time and help inform risk management policies and measures;
- specific data collection to support risk assessments and other tasks.
EFSA’s Founding regulation (Art. 33) states that EFSA shall search for, collect, analyse and summarise particularly data on
- food consumption,
- incidence and prevalence of biological risks, and
- occurrence of contaminants and chemical residues.
Regulation 396/2005 requires that EFSA collate and analyse results of national controls on pesticide residues in food and feed. A consumer exposure assessment has to be carried out by EFSA before concluding on the safety of a maximum residue level.
Directive 2003/99/EC assigns EFSA the task of examining data submitted annually by Member States on zoonoses, zoonotic agents, food-borne outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance. Based on this data, every year EFSA prepares Community Summary Reports in close collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).
- Regulation 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures on matters of food safety
- Regulation 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides
- Directive 2003/99/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 November 2003 on the monitoring of zoonoses and zoonotic agents
In addition, data collection is needed for other tasks EFSA is required to carry out; for example the re-evaluation of substances authorised in foods such as food additives. Data on specific issues such as animal welfare practices and indicators, farming systems, nutrition or ecological and environmental information may also need to be collected for the risk assessments and guidance documents produced by EFSA Panels.